During my recent trip to South Korea, I managed to pick up a copy of 1st Look magazine featuring Lee Je Hoon (it comes in an awfully huge size that is inconvenient for reading but good for pinning up as a poster in your room!), so I decided to spend my time translating the interview during the long bus rides.
Upon seeing Lee Je Hoon appear at the arranged venue for his interview, the people around exclaimed, “Lieutenant Park Hae Young!” He is now trying hard to bid goodbye to “Park Hae Young”, a character whom he treasured, and one that is still receiving warm love from people. Lee Je Hoon, who wishes to continue the love by showing even better acting, does his first transformation with fashion brand Hazzys.
The drama Signal ended, leaving audiences with this transmission: “There is hope if you do not give up”. This drama about almost supernatural radio transmissions overcame the concerns and prejudices of the genre and became a success. The desperate transmissions between a detective in the past and a profiler in the present, which started because of the desire to solve cold cases, would change the past and shake the present at times, and sometimes sought to change the future also. The past that could not be set straight despite continuous struggles was corrected, but danger and misfortune were repeated once again. Even though sadness remain for those who live on, this drama taught us the importance and necessity of continuing to take even the smallest actions in the present, with the belief that “someone will remember, even if it’s just a few” and that the future can be changed. This desperate “signal” also started from the sincere hope of the actors. More so than showing precise acting of their characters, the actors completed a narrative of the present through their own selves. They really expressed from their hearts that a past which has been taken away or erased is also the present that is incredibly precious to someone, and the importance of not missing a “signal” that is being transmitted, even in the real world without the walkie talkie. This is so for Lee Je Hoon, who believes that even if it’s only a few people, “I have to always understand peoples’ hearts as I act”. Thanks to that, the stories of others that we cannot ignore even though we are hurt, and the path of our own that should not be abandoned even though it’s filled with uncertainty; could be connected with the future.
And now, this actor who did his part outstandingly has returned with a new signal without rest. Having taken on various genres, personalities and characters all these while, he now takes on a rough and charming Detective Hong Gil Dong not seen anywhere else before. He stars in Phantom Detective, the new film of director Jo Sung Hee, who is popular for his sensual story construct and unique imagination. We mustn’t think of the righteous thief in the classic tale that we are familiar with just because he is called “Hong Gil Dong”. We can seemingly tell from the text in the poster which says “A new bad guy who is above the bad guys”. Hong Gil Dong, a private detective and head of the illegal investigation agency “Hwal Bin Dang”, may be a genius who boasts a 99% success rate in solving cases, but he is a character who is lacking in many ways because he had lost all empathy and memories he had before he was 8 due to an accident. Casting aside his usual gentle image and breaking conventions, Lee Je Hoon will show his transformed self as a Korean-style dark anti-hero. It wasn’t an easy transformation, but he carries a sincerity with his firm principles and manners as an actor. Although his communication with the past has stopped temporarily (we hope so), time goes on for sincere actor Lee Je Hoon who had focused on Signal.
Meeting Lieutenant Park Hae Young, we cannot avoid talking about the drama Signal. The fever for the show hasn’t died down even after it has ended.
I still have lingering feelings for it too. I think these will remain with me for a long time because it was a pity to bid goodbye. More importantly, I am very delighted that I was able to convey to the audience the same feelings of surprise and touching emotions that I felt when I first read the script. It is rare for the director, scriptwriter, staff and actors to be of one heart and complete a show of such high quality. I’m very proud that we were able to complete everything successfully without any regrets. Personally, this is also the first time that I’m receiving such keen interest while filming a show. When we did filming outdoors for the second half of the show, passersby would cheer us on saying “We are enjoying the show” and even encouraged us. It was really encouraging and I liked it. I was also very grateful. I even have this hope that I will have the chance to experience this feeling of being loved again next time.
It was fortunate that you were able to receive so much encouragement. You looked worn and tired as the episodes went on, so I was worried.
I tend to lose weight while filming, probably because I’m worried. Signal was a satisfying show right from the start so filming was always fun, but the sadness of victims and the trauma suffered by those around them were hard-hitting and it wasn’t easy to overcome these. Actually, one of the reasons for choosing this show initially was the wish to at least give a voice to the pent-up anger and pain borne by those involved in unsolved crimes. Although I may not be able to experience the exact same feelings as them, I thought that I ought to at least try and recall some of those feelings while acting to convey the message. Not just me, but the other actors and all the production crew members hoped that the transmissions of detective Lee Jae Han in the past will continue in our society in 2016.
According to your friends, you have a really “steel-like fitness”?
I think I’m the kind that is rather fit. When we had to do long-distance running for physical fitness test in middle school and high school, I was the best at running when you exclude those kids from the sports department. Newborn babies usually drink breastmilk or powdered milk right? But my mum fed me powdered milk cooked in beef bone soup. I think that probably had some effect (laughs). But I can sense that my basic fitness has definitely dropped. I went to Africa for relief work recently, but I felt sick for several days after returning home. Last time, I would get used to the time difference immediately and I would feel fresh the very next day. I think I’m suffering from the effects of ageing. Maintaining my fitness is more important than anything in order to act well. At least from now onwards, I need to manage and maintain my health so that I don’t age too fast.
Your first activity after finishing your drama was to do charity work in Africa. We would like to know how much you value that work.
I was the public ambassador for international relief development organisation Oxfam Korea since last year. I’ve also travelled to refugee camps to help out. All of us who are working together are working hard in our own capacities to gather more interest and help. Although communicating and empathising with others’ pain and difficulties have always been important to me, I wish to take a little more initiative and put things into practice. When people combine their strength and do things together, surely we can find a way and be happier. For this not to end as a one-off event, I’m putting in effort to devote one hour if possible to do such activities continuously.
It may be easy to talk about justice and goodwill, but it’s difficult to put these into practice in reality. You seem to place your beliefs as a prority.
I’m walking the path as an actor that I would like. But in fact, this isn’t something that’s possible with just a “good heart” alone. This is only possible if the public pay attention to me and watch over me. I’m truly grateful for that. As such, I consider it my duty that I return the love that I’ve received. It’s a given that I present good acting through good shows, but I was wondering about what I can do beyond that. So I thought it would be great if I can at least help someone a little and bring about some change. If one can be a good influence to even one person, and if a few people can give their support and work together, I am determined to carry on for a long time till the end.
That kind of initiative and putting words into action also stem from the “actor Lee Je Hoon”?
Although there are many different aspects that make up who I am, for now…, no, as time goes on, my identity as an actor will definitely weigh more. But I’m not doing this just to satisfy myself. I don’t live alone in this world either. I could show my best appearance through outstanding shows such as Signal and Phantom Detective because I was working together with many people who did their best in their respective jobs from start till finish. As I build up my filmography, the importance of “togetherness” becomes all the more clearer to me. Things like the gratitude towards the people who work with me, and the reassurance of working together in step. I hope to be a person who gives strength and happiness to others. I also hope that there will be more happy people on this earth. Being able to do something to give hope to the world, is also a driving force that gives me strength.
As we chat more, you are indeed a kind and well mannered person like what we guessed. But it can be a little boring too. We heard that one of your nicknames is “old man”…
Haha. Not necessarily so. It’s probably the effect of my character image in shows that make people think like that, and also because of my attitude and conduct when I’m working. Well, it’s not a bad thing. Compared to when I first made my debut, I’ve become more talkative and I also interact naturally with strangers more quickly. I also adjust to the people I meet at work a little more comfortably. Frankly, I tend to get deeply engrossed in understanding and portraying the character when I join a production, such that I usually end up looking at my parts only. But looking at seniors Cho Jin Woong and Kim Hye Soo this time, I reflected on myself and realised “I still have a long way to go”. Besides getting into character, they got along harmoniously with colleagues and staff members and also had fun filming while taking the lead with a wider perspective. I was envious of them and respected them too.
Watching you at the photo shoot today, the mischievous young image also suits you surprisingly. You also pose easily and skilfully. I heard that you were obsessed with hip hop when you were younger. Your agility is also unusual.
It’s embarrassing. But this kind of concept is a first for me so it was amazing and interesting. I was able to discover another side of me that I wasn’t aware of. Actually, actors bring out a new side of themselves through the new characters that they play in shows. That’s why I hope to play a character that is unfamiliar and attractive. Although the photo shoot was a short one, I welcome this opportunity as it was able to portray me in another way. In movies or dramas, what I have within me are extracted and released, but today, I end up realising “Ah, I have such a side to me after all”. I now have greater confidence in showing such an image on TV or the big screen next time.
So we will be able to meet yet another brand new you in your movie that will be released next month? The anticipation must be greater since this is your return to the big screen after 3 years.
You may know just by watching it, but this is really a “new and special” movie that you will find hard to put a finger on. The movie has great charm with unique visuals and world view that you can’t find elsewhere and unusual characters. I was especially attracted to the world of directer Jo Sung Hee. Even before enjoying commercial success with “Werewolf Boy”, he had received great attention in the world of independent films with various works such as “Don’t Step Out of the House”. Since then, I’ve always wanted to work with him at least once. It is a great honour for me to complete such a challenging movie with him.
We hope to see you in the movie as soon as possible. Surely you have other plans lined up also?
Certainly. I want to meet the public quickly and more often through good projects. I’m working hard on searching for my next project so please wait a while more. There are many things that I want to try too. Looking back, I haven’t played many roles of professionals that often appear in movies or dramas, neither have I played a role that is cheerful like my image in today’s photo shoot. I want to try romantic comedies or tender melodramas too. Four years have passed since I starred in “Architecture 101”, the clumsy but fresh Seungmin who gets more mature with time and has a realistic romance is still entertaining right? A lot of that seems unfamiliar, but I’m really confident in portraying that kind of sweet romance.
Behind the scenes:
Translated from Korean to English. Please credit when sharing, and please do not take out the whole translation from this site.
Image credit: 1stlook